We can’t have Christ and Sputnik too
For the sake of argument
When the news broke about Russia’s mechanical moon I was grimly glad, even though I lamented the coming of the day when our pleasant old earth will be as outmoded by colonized planets as the old culture-cradles of Europe are now outmoded by Russia and the United States. But since Sputnik was bound to be invented by somebody, I was glad that the first working model was produced by Russians and not by our friends.
If Sputnik does nothing else useful, it should at least rouse this mentally lazy continent to an activity which has been considered bad form for many a year: it may once again make it respectable for an honest man to think, even to think aloud. For already Sputnik has made public nonsense of the mythology foisted on North Americans by politicians, publicists and advertisers, who worship science without understanding the first important thing about it except that it is wonderful.
A propaganda thunder
The average North American, who is one of the least scientifically minded types alive, has been thinking of science as a cushion for his body and a drug for his mind. He has come close to regarding science as a god as tutelary as Jahweh was to the Children of Israel. Science, he has been encouraged to believe, will always look after him. When the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, the initial reaction of the average American citizen was what might have been expected: once again, our scientific boys had done it.
Of course informed Americans understood perfectly well that the role played by our scientific boys in tapping nuclear power was relatively slight. The two pioneering geniuses had been a New Zealander and a German Jew. Even in the
Manhattan Project itself, the two most important scientists involved had been a Dane and an Italian. The atomic bomb was not the product of a single nation’s genius, even of a single nation’s knowhow; it was a by-product of science itself. That the American government put up the money to build the bomb was not a scientific act, it was a political one.
But during the last dozen years the voice of the informed has been smothered in a thunder of propaganda. American myth-makers insisted that the public believe that the United States legitimately owned what in fact was an international property. When Russia made a bomb of her own, and made it years before the American government expected she would, the myth-makers pretended that her success was entirely caused by the activity of traitors who had given her the secrets. Right up to this last autumn it has been the thesis that Russia cannot keep pace with America in science and technology because—such was the argument of Dr. Vannevar Bush — science and technology will always flourish better in free states than in countries like Russia.
I am grateful to Sputnik for having at last made it possible for millions of democratic citizens to understand how they have been duped, and to consider a few facts about science which the scientists themselves have been stating for years.
The first of these is that science does not regard any one nation as chosen.
The second is that science, especially the branches of it dependent on mathematics, flourishes in totalitarian states. Mathematics is without morals or ideology, and therefore is no threat to communism. The Soviet government dare not tolerate an honest historian, philosopher, poet or novelist, and for a time continued on page 101
MONTREAL’S HUGH MACLENNAN, ONE OF CANADA’S MOST DISTINGUISHED NOVELISTS, IS WELL KNOWN FOR HIS PROVOCATIVE ARTICLES.
For the sake of argument continued from page 10
"In an all-out technological race, Russia is sure to defeat the United States . .
it was even nervous of a biologist. But it has nothing to fear from mathematical equations, and it uses its physicists and chemists in the same spirit in which it uses any instrument which will turn out the things it wants. It has not been Russia which has been inhibiting her tool-makers, it has been the free United States. The Russians wasted no time deNazihing the German rocket-builders they captured; instead they gave them houses to live in, laboratories to work in, privacy and good salaries. But the United States, for political purposes inherent in the American attitude toward elections, drove Dr. Robert Oppenheimer out of the public service.
The third truth about science which Sputnik’s triumph may now make acceptable to North Americans is that technological ability has no necessary connection with a nation’s maturity. It may, in short, make some of us realize that the worth of our society does not depend on know-how, but on the existence of a complex, delicate organism which evolved slowly over the centuries and which we call, for lack of a better word, civilization. There is no essential connection between technological know-how and civilization. Forty years ago eighty-seven percent of the Russian population was illiterate. Thirty years ago Soviet industry was something our own engineers laughed at. But in 1957 Russia proved hat in technology she had overhauled the United States and in one important department had gone well ahead.
The final truth revealed by Sputnik, or at least by the implications of Sputnik, is one I am almost afraid to mention lest I be accused of giving comfort to communists. It is this. In an all-out technological race, Russia is sure to defeat the United States because her society is totalitarian and communist while that of the United States is democratic and capitalist. In short, communism is better suited than democracy for success in a Rube Goldberg competition.
If anyone doubts this, let him look at some of the evidence.
The educational system of the Soviet Union, entirely controlled by the state, is virtually a forcing house for the development of scientists and technologists. With her huge population, Russia is now turning out more engineers than the rest of the world put together. Nor is this solely a matter of superior organization; it is also a matter of mental attitude. The Russian’s Bible is Marx, his ideology is dialectical materialism, and he has few lingering values from Christianity to disturb the official doctrine that the chief end of man is to produce, break records, win championships and move large objects from place to place. Uncontaminatcd by any anxiety that it profits a man nothing if he gains the world and loses a soul, the Russian expert is able to enter a technological race with an integrity far purer than his American competitor.
In contrast to this picture, North American technology appears confused in the extreme. While it is perfectly true that the average North American today lives a materialistic existence, the fact remains that materialism is an invader of his real heritage, and that his materialistic habits still trouble the conscience of his elite. Nor is this all. While the purpose of technology in the Soviet Union is to strengthen the state, the purpose
of most technology in North America is to make a profit for the corporation which pays for it. This the Russian scientists smugly pointed out in Washington when they told American newsmen that American designers are better at
producing fish-tailed automobiles, while Russian designers are better at producing machines to explore space.
From all this it follows—I don't see how anyone can seriously dispute it on the evidence—that the only way in which
America can win a technological race with the Soviet Union is by scrapping the capitalist system and turning herself into a full-fledged totalitarian state. Nor would I be astonished if I heard that certain of the competitively minded men
Pentagon a good idea, though of course they would not express it as baldly as I have expressed it here.
Fortunately it is an impossible idea. For in order to win a long-term technological contest with Russia, America would have to do a lot more than vest her government with dictatorial powers. She would, in the last analysis, have to abandon her entire heritage of civilization. She would have to close her churches and ban the Bible, lest the teachings of Jesus disturb the minds of the people. She would have to forget about Jefferson and his doctrine of individualism. She would have to squelch all her best writers. She would have to turn Harvard into a carbon copy of the University of Moscow.
Is Canada schizophrenic':'
Since North Americans can do none of these things, no matter how hard they try, why do we allow so many of our spokesmen to assert that our sole hope of survival depends on winning the technological race with Russia? Why, as a good many Americans are now beginning to do, don’t we take a good look at ourselves and compute our assets and our debits and begin an adventure long overdue on this continent, namely the working out of a philosophy of life which is based on current realities and not on the comfortable mythology inherited from the past? Why not admit what every foreigner assumes of us, that our present society is sick?
It is sick, I believe, because it has permitted itself to become schizophrenic, and the schizophrenia so obvious in the life of the modern United States is equally endemic here in Canada. It manifests itself in almost everything we say, think and do. It makes us nervous, insecure, at times hysterical and often contemptible in the eyes of older countries. Its continuance without check is more likely to destroy us than the ICBMs of the Soviet Union.
Specifically, we North Americans are schizophrenic because we are attempting to be Christians in one part of our minds and materialists in the other. Publicly we insist that reiigion is the backbone of our civilization and the author of our freedom. Yet at the same time our advertisers, who must earn a living in a competitive system, endeavor to make us believe by conditioned reflex that our chief end is to consume their products and that we can’t be happy without that new car or suit of clothes or what have you.
The disease spreads downward and outward with symptoms too numerous to count. Seldom have there been more books about religion than are being published now, yet almost all of them discuss religion as though they were selling a patent medicine. Norman Vincent Peale writes about God as though He were a raw material to be exploited, and Billy Graham once described God as the most valuable product in the world, which ought to be sold more efficiently than soap. Humanitarians wish to abolish the disease of cancer, but the slogan they use is Fight Cancer—not heal cancer but fight it—thereby injecting an act of love with a dose of hostility. The same manufacturer who shouts that all must be done to outbuild Russia, screams like a stuck pig if anything is done to interfere with the profits of private companies. The same newspaper which insists that the loyalty of scientists be scrutinized by committees, has no hesitation in publishing secret scientific information if its editors believe it will make a good
story. On a Canadian highway I have seen an advertisement for a 240 horsepower car facing another sign which warned Speed Kills! The same people who insist that the survival of their country depends on the use of its brains, saw nothing inconsistent in electing a political party which scornfully labeled all men of brains eggheads.
No public man revealed more clearly the inherent schizophrenia in contemporary North America than did our own prime minister in the speech he delivered at McGill shortly after the launching of Sputnik. What he said that day—I do not quote him precisely—boiled down to this: “We must never permit ourselves to be materialistic. But at the same time we must accept this Russian challenge and prove ourselves better at materialism than they are.” Mr. Diefenbaker then called for more scientists and engineers to be produced by our university system.
With no disrespect to Mr. Diefenbaker’s integrity and decency, I submit that his was a schizophrenic reaction. I submit that it is impossible to be as materialistic as the Russians without being as materialistic as the Russians.
No man can serve two masters simultaneously, as was pointed out a long time ago and as we affect to believe. Neither can any society serve with equal devotion the philosophy of materialism and the religion of Jesus Christ. On the basic levels of decision, from time to time, there come moments when a clear choice must be made. And it is a matter of record that at such moments, however, grudgingly, our governments decide on the basis of Christianity. In 1946 it would have been technically possible for the United States to have destroyed Russia before Russia acquired atomic bombs of her own. Some people thought she should have done so. But in the moment of decision it turned out to be morally impossible. At the sticking point the American government was Christian, and it still is.
Since this is the kind of people we are, why not admit it above the propaganda level? Why not admit further that we have neither the ability nor the desire to beat Russia in technology merely for the sake of beating her? Why not let the Russians win this technological race and keep our heads while they do so?
“Wars are caused by fear”
This is not the advice of a suicide or even of what used to be called a pacifist, for I do not believe it essential to Christ’s teachings to offer your throat to a murderer. But I do believe it essential not to be so afraid of death as we now are, not to be as aggressive as we now are, not to be so full of hate and fear as we now are. I do believe that wars are caused more by fear than by the desire to dominate, more by competition than by, at times, a refusal to compete in collective madness. We have great deterrent power at the moment; so much that only a madman would dare draw its fire. Even if the Russians win the technological race, in the sense that they can do more damage than we can, we would be in no more danger than we would be if we were their equals in the capacity to do damage. For wars, to repeat, are caused by fear, and in the modern world vast technological power has ceased to be a defense. Little Ecuador is safer than the United States or Russia.
Therefore, I believe it would be supreme folly to do as many now advise us, and engage in a frantic race with Russia in the production of instruments
of destruction. I believe it would be suicidal to strap the remnants of the liberal arts and to turn our colleges into Russian-inspired forcing houses for technicians. I believe a dozen Schweitzers would be a better guarantee of safety than three dozen Edisons and ten dozen Henry Fords. I believe that the triumph of Sputnik has made all these things clear.
This does not mean I am advocating an abandonment of our scientific and technological tradition. It means only that I am advocating that we pursue sci-
ence as it should be pursued, as a search for truth and not a race for power. I believe we should stop hating the Russians in our propaganda; that we should stop hating them altogether. 1 believe we should ask ourselves this question: “If the worst comes to the worst, do we prefer to die like Christians or like terrified hysterics?” And I believe finally that if we answer that question properly, wisdom will come with the cessation of our fear, and after wisdom that mysterious defender our ancestors called the Grace of God. ir